It’s been four years since Malaria, Poems captured the attention of major media outlets:
“For a year I’ve had a slim volume of poetry called Malaria, Poems buzzing around my head.”
“When a collection like Malaria, Poems comes along, the world must take notice.”
In July 2018, Cameron’s latest book will be released:
“Man Box can open up important conversations in gender studies classes everywhere.“
—Dr. Joe Boehman, Dean of Richmond College
Beginning with a foreword from Dr. Joe Boehman (see below), Man Box, Poems illuminates the seemingly insignificant patriarchal forces that manifest into a toxic masculinity capable of damaging lives and our planet.
One poem from the collection:
The Man Box is shorthand for what academicians call “hegemonic masculinity” and journalists call “toxic masculinity.” Unfortunately, most of us call it “normal.”
The Man Box describes the limiting definition of what a “real man” is supposed to be. The box is an excellent metaphor, as it contains us as men, not allowing us to wander freely to explore our full selves.
Before we can explore the Man Box, we need to understand how it is developed. Gender—our notion of what it means to be a man or a woman—is a societal construct. What that means is that society sees us as gendered beings, typically masculine or feminine, based on physical attributes, social cues, and how we carry ourselves.
The Man Box is seen as normal because it is the dominant societal construct of masculinity in the United States at this time. It is certainly not the only narrative, but it gets more airplay in our media, in locker rooms, at the backyard grill, and in the workplace than any other narrative.
As with any structure, the Man Box has a framework. That framework is made up of comparison, performance, and competition. As guys, we are taught to prove that we fit in and that we are “man enough.” Because it is a hierarchy, the Man Box pits men against each other to prove (in subtle and not-so-subtle ways) who is the winner—who is “the man,” or the alpha male. Guys who don’t quite measure up are put down by their peers, and sometimes by women, as not being good enough. The framework is held together by shame and feelings of inadequacy, which is reinforced by phrases such as “man up” and “grow some balls.”
The exterior of the Man Box is made up of our perceptions of what a “real man” is. These perceptions include limited expression of emotions, being tough, aggressive, and competitive. These perceptions paint a one-dimensional, action-figure version of masculinity.
There is a difference, however, when you ask people to describe the characteristics of a “good man,” which include being a provider, being honest, having integrity, and being able to give and receive love. This is an image of masculinity that promotes being responsible, treating others with respect, and having positive impact in communities.
Being a good man is what most young men aspire to, but stepping out of the Box to explore other images of masculinity comes with a price. When a man decides to not follow the script of the Man Box, by expressing sadness, by speaking out against rape culture, or simply not being interested in sports, they often face a good deal of harassment in the form of ridicule and shame from men and women alike. Many times, the harassment includes homophobic or misogynistic slurs.
Helping young men break free of the Man Box is tough work, as you are working against an incredible cultural force. To explore an authentic portrayal of masculinity, you need to be vulnerable with yourself and others, which is a fundamental violation of the Man Box. Breaking free requires an understanding of what you’re breaking free from, which can be difficult when the toxicity of the Man Box is as normal as the air we breathe.
This is why this book matters. Cameron Conaway is a gifted poet who has faced this struggle in his own life, and continues to do the soul work that is required to build an authentic personal definition of masculinity. The poems in this book speak to the experience of the Man Box. They speak to the shame, the attempts to measure up to the definitions of manhood given to us by our fathers, by our peers, by the media, even by Big Pharma and store clerks. They speak of the struggle many young men face as they try to be something that goes against the grain; it’s a struggle made all the more difficult when there aren’t mentors to model alternatives.
But there is hope as well. These poems speak to the connection of friends who feel and understand the depth of their brotherhood, to the inner strength that authentic masculinity grows from, and to working through the pain and the fear—what some might call “manning up”—to break free of the limiting definition of the Man Box that society forces them to live in.
This book may give you the tools to dismantle the Man Box. Use them well, and open that sucker up.
—Dr. Joe Boehman, Dean of Richmond College